What you dont learn in vet school

January 2, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

This year, dont suffer with bad leadership skills and toxic workplace culture. This veterinary technician and long-time hospital manager has a few tidbits and starting points for practice owners, doctors and other managers to navigate the path to better managing and work life in general.

Danielle Russ, LVT, BS, BADanielle Russ, LVT, BS, BA, is not a veterinarian, but she's worked more than 20 years in practice with dozens and dozens of them, and as an outside observer and a hospital manager to many of them today, she had some advice in a session titled “What you didn't learn in vet school” at Fetch dvm360 in San Diego.

‘You can't be 100 percent of everything'

Veterinarians are brilliant, driven clinicians who are required to master the clinical skills and medical knowledge across a number of species. That is no small feat. But what happens when they spill out into the world and become managers or practice owners and discover how much they don't know about business and how little time they have in busy lives as doctors to learn and manage?

“You can't be 100 percent of everything,” Russ told her audience. “You can't be 100 percent veterinarian and 100 percent business owner.”

In other words, those are two full-time jobs, and a single human being needs help to get them done. Whether you're 90 percent doctor and 10 percent mentor, or 50 percent doctor and 50 percent practice owner, or 30 percent doctor and 70 percent hospital administrator, you only have so much time in the day.

Choose wisely, learn what you don't know and lean on others for help. You don't have to be all things all the time. (If your problem is learning to say no, start thinking about that here.)

‘Everyone leads in their own way'

Sharing four of the five leadership styles from the seminal management book Mastering Leadership by Robert Anderson and William Adams, Russ shared a vision of expanding and maturing leadership styles, from where many leaders start to where they can get through experience and hard work. (Editor's note: Russ didn't cover the final leadership style, “Unitive,” which really sees the final management technique as a high state of awareness akin with bringing the inner world of the manager in alignment with the outer world and being a part of long-term spiritual work. If you want to grow as a leader, dip into a little of what the Veterinary Leadership Institute teaches.)

> Egocentric leaders are driven by personal gain and their own clear vision, but not very inclusive. “This is where I see veterinary students,” Russ says. “This [gets] a person through vet school. You're difficult to work alongside, because you can only see your own way.”

> Reactive leaders “do what others want,” Russ says, “reacting rather than creating their own reality.” These people “will do almost anything to put out the fire in the moment, no matter the consequences.” They don't know where they're going, but they'll get there fast.

> Creative leaders start “bringing the right people to the right seats on the bus” and getting people on the team where they'll do the best work. They incorporate new ideas and work to gain buy-in. But creative leaders aren't done yet, because they're not seeing the forest for the trees quite yet.

> Integrative leaders realize they “can't do it all,” Russ says. They incorporate systems to make their plans work, and they get input from individuals involved. Russ says, on her best days, she finds herself here as a manager who's helped put the right people in place, got their buy-in and doesn't need to micro-manage. “I can't put into words how happy this makes you feel,” she says.

Where do you see yourself as a leader today, and what skills or thinking could you develop to help you get to the next step?

‘You gotta get to the conflict'

If you want to increase morale, Russ says, you need to increase communication, slowly work through conflicts and come out the other side.

“You can pile on pizza and ice cream days all you want,” she says, but it won't help if there are deeper problems. Mismanaged-or ignored-conflict is one of the big reasons veterinarians and team members want to leave their practices.

There are shelves and shelves of books, and webinars everywhere, about how to better manage conflict. Everybody doesn't have to like everyone, but you need to be professional to work together and appreciate what everyone brings to their jobs.

One of the biggest ways Russ sees practice owners shoot themselves in the foot? Do as I say, not as I do. If you want conflict resolved in healthy ways and you want certain priorities emphasized all the time as bedrock principles in your practice, you've got to walk the walk. (Want to see what the 2017 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year has to say on conflict? Click here.)

‘Share the numbers'

You could go all the way and try Open Book Management. But even if you're not going to cover balance sheets, profit-and-loss statements and annual finances with everyone, people don't do well with secrets.

“The majority of managers are afraid [sharing the numbers] will scare the team when the business isn't doing well,” Russ says. “But a lot of veterinary professionals are loyal people, and they want to work hard. And It's hard to know what you don't know.”

Even if practice owners or managers don't tell people there are problems, or don't explain which numbers are crucial and need to go up and which ones need to go down, people get those nonverbal cues and worry.

Stop confusing people. If there's a metric you look at as a manager, find a way to share it with the team and make it a metric they understand and care about too. And help make this year a better year for you as a manager and leader of people in veterinary practice.